The immediate and immense popularity of certain of his works – the second piano concerto in particular – has been both a blessing and a curse for the reputation of Sergei Rachmaninov. It made him a household name in a way that few composers experience, but it also meant that other parts of his oeuvre was overshadowed and neglected. A case in point are the three symphonies, a genre which caused the composer great heartache, beginning with the disastrous reception of Symphony No.1 in 1897, one of the legendary fiascos in the history of music. By all accounts the direction of Alexander Glazunov was less than adequate – according to some eyewitnesses he was drunk! – but the young composer took the critical failure so at heart that he entered a grave depression and a creative crisis. He did not compose again until three years later, and only after ten years did he venture to write another symphony. This was received much more warmly, but even so it took him almost another thirty years to start composing the Third Symphony, premièred in 1936. The delay may have been caused by the composer’s feeling that his Second Symphony had not been fully understood – its epic dimensions, which have been compared to the ‘expanse of the Russian steppes’, have caused many a conductor to make cuts in the score. The composer’s views on this may be judged by the anecdote according to which Eugene Ormandy, preparing for a performance of the work, asked Rachmaninov to suggest cuts; some hours later, the score was returned to him. Only two bars had been crossed out.
This box brings together the three symphonies, coupled with the early works Prince Rostislav and the so-called ‘Youth Symphony’ as well as the composer’s own arrangement for orchestra of Vocalise, possibly his most well-loved piece. The interpretations by Owain Arwel Hughes, conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, were highly praised at the original release (as single discs) of these recordings in 2002 and 2003, as testified by the following quotes:
‘Hughes is the first conductor to convince me that the First Symphony is on a par with its two successors.’ International Record Review
‘A major surprise, this immensely moving and poetic version has made itself a place at the very top of the discography.’ (Symphony No.2) Répertoire
‘Refined and thoughtful ... bringing out the beauty of sound with exceptionally clear textures.’ (Symphony No.3) – Gramophone
‘The great modern Rachmaninov cycle.’ Répertoire
Extra material for download